Africa trip will help forge bonds - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Africa trip will help forge bonds

As you read “Along the Way” this week, I will be en route to Africa. Father Joseph Hart and I will be visiting Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria. I will be returning from Rome on Nov. 10; Joe will be returning directly from Africa on Nov. 5.

I will do my best to write about the trip and share the experience of it through the pages of the Catholic Courier. But I do wish this week to give you some background on the whys and wherefores of the trip.

Many of you know that for over 40 years our diocese has enjoyed the presence and ministry of priests from African nations.

In the early years, these dear brothers came from Kenya, and the vast majority of them came to study at St. John Fisher College. The college and other generous benefactors offered strong financial and moral support to these new friends. Our parish communities participated in the program by offering hospitality in our rectories. Our guests in turn offered what parish ministry they could while they pursued their studies. That mutually beneficial relationship continues to this day.

In later years, a second stream of priests from Kenya and other African nations began to flow into our local church. In most instances, these men were not sent for formal academic training. Rather, they were asked by their bishops to come here for another kind of education. I refer to the kind of development we all experience when we enter a new environment with open minds and a willingness to learn. In these instances, the hope of the sending bishops is that their priests will be enriched by the opportunity to minister in another nation and that they, in turn, will share what they have learned when they return home.

Over the years the priests who have served with us — and their bishops, who have come here to visit them — have continually asked me (you guessed it!): “When are you going to come to visit us?” You will understand that one can only say, “I’d love to come” or “I will, but I am not yet certain when” for so long. I truly wish I had planned this trip earlier, but I am delighted that I can do it now.

In addition to these local considerations, there are other reasons why I think it is important to visit Africa. Let me mention briefly some of the reasons that make me say that.

The church in many parts of Africa is flourishing. It is a young church and a very vibrant one. I am curious about, and am convinced, that there is much that we can learn from their pastoral experience.

The church in Africa is in a very crucial position in terms of the dialogue between Christianity and Islam — a conversation that will shape the world for good or ill for generations to come.

The church in Africa has endured deep suffering in recent years — genocide, apartheid, oppressive political regimes, the AIDS pandemic, famine, profound poverty. Our communion of faith with them impels us to share their journey in every way that we can.

In recognition of the factors I mentioned above, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has placed a high priority on the development of strong relationships with the church in Africa at all levels of the life of our faith community. There is no one, predetermined way to do that. But I do believe that as the USCCB works on that with the episcopal conferences of Africa, so must we at the diocesan and parish level do what we can to relate to the church on that magnificent continent.

We have some long-standing diocesan associations already, and some of our parishes have forged strong relationships with parish communities and other groups in Africa. It is my fond hope that on this trip we’ll be able to advance some of those relationships in a helpful way.

Please pray for this venture. As you do, be assured that you and our beloved diocese will be in my prayers each day.

Peace to all.

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